General Information

Not all people with diabetes develop foot problems. In many cases serious problems can be prevented by an understanding of what can happen to feet and how to take care of them.

What are the types of diabetic foot problems?

People with diabetes are more prone to infection. They can also develop neuropathy (damaged nerves) or peripheral vascular disease (blocked arteries) of the legs and either can lead to foot ulceration. Infection and foot ulceration, alone or in combination, often lead to amputation. This happens to about 3000 people in Australia each year. Neuropathy and peripheral vascular disease can also cause distressing pain in the lower limbs.

Can diabetic foot problems be prevented?

Theoretically, if diabetes is well controlled it should be possible to avoid these foot problems. However, as it is not always possible to achieve good diabetic control and as severe neuropathy and peripheral vascular disease cannot be easily reversed, many people with diabetes are at risk of developing foot problems. Therefore it is important to know how best to minimize the risk of foot problems and how best to treat them.

What are the steps that can be taken to prevent or treat foot problems?

Good diabetic control is always helpful. However, by itself, it is often not enough.
For people with diabetes who have not yet developed active infection or ulceration, the important thing is to grade the degree of risk and then to provide them with appropriate foot care education to minimize the risk of developing active foot problems.
For people already with infection or ulceration, the important thing is to urgently treat the infection and heal the ulcer. The treatment required for ulceration due to neuropathy or peripheral vascular disease may be quite different. Therefore it is necessary to distinguish the different types.
For people with pain, the important thing is to determine whether it is due to neuropathy or vascular disease because the treatment is again quite different.